How To Start a Piano Tuning Business

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How To Start a Piano Tuning Business

Do you love the sound of a piano and have an ear for music and harmonies? Are you looking for opportunities to become your own boss? Then starting a piano tuning business might be the perfect career move for you. 

You will not have to know your Steinway from your Fazioli or Kawai to start with, but you need good ears. Piano tuning is unregulated in the US. To call yourself a registered piano tuner or technician, you must complete rigorous training through the Piano Technicians Guild. Alternatively, you may learn your craft through an apprenticeship with a skilled and qualified piano tuner.

Business Overview

Typically, piano tuners test and adjust the tension of piano strings – all 230 of them on average – so that the instrument is in tune and all tones are accurate. The piano’s age, frequency of playing, humidity, and temperature all impact the instrument’s tuning. Professional piano players frequently offer piano tuning services as they can provide a stable income.

Some piano tuners extend their services to include repair and restoration projects.   

Industry Summary

The average home piano will need tuning once a year, studio pianos every month, and concert pianos are commonly serviced before each performance. 

Given that estimates put the number of pianos in the US at close to 20 million, a well-run piano tuning business can count on a captive market and repeat business. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 5,700 musical instrument repairers and tuners are employed in the US (May 2021). Unsurprisingly, numbers are highest in larger metropolitan areas, making it worthwhile to analyze potential markets in more rural areas. 

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Industry Trends

Looking at the minimal unemployment rate and the average number of years a piano tuner stays in their job, this industry is full of potential. According to Zippia, unemployment dwindled from 4.08% in 2010 to 0.79% in 2019. And the largest portion of piano technicians (26%) has stayed in this trade for 11 years plus. 

Target Market

As a piano tuner, you will have to be prepared to travel to your clients. That makes it a relatively localized business. Churches, piano showrooms, recording studios, nightclubs, music conservatories, and universities may have pianos. 

Consider checking what music tuition is offered in your area, what venues might have regular concerts, and whether there are music shops within your region. That will give you a good understanding of your potential market, whether you will focus on home pianos or whether there are concert or studio contracts for more regular piano services. 

Your clientele will also determine whether you will be busy during regular work-week hours or whether you might expect call-outs.

Checklist for Starting a Piano Tuning Business

Starting a piano tuning business can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. Use this checklist to help get your business off on the right note.

Step 1: Write a Business Plan

After you have decided that you want to start a piano tuning business, the next step is to write a business plan. This document will outline your business goals, strategies, and how you plan on achieving them. It is important to have a clear and concise business plan before starting any new venture.

Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

Related: How to write a business plan

Step 2: Form a Business Entity

A business entity (also referred to as a business structure) refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business structures to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.

When deciding on which business entity is best for a piano tuning business, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.

A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay.
 
The corporation can be a good choice to minimize liability risk because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.

That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.

The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is that the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.

Related: Guide to forming your LLC
 

Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.


Some popular LLC formation services include:


IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!

ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!

Step 3: Name the Business

The next step in starting your own piano tuning business is to choose a name for the company. This name will represent your brand and be how customers identify your business. Choose a name that is easy to remember and pronounce, as well as one that represents the quality of your service.

Step 4: Select your Location

While most piano tuning services don’t need an expensive storefront, the business will need a place to operate from.  Many smaller operations operate out of their home, so be sure to check zoning and covenants in case you have a neighbor that doesn’t approve of your venture.

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

Like any business, a piano tuning business owner will likely need to obtain a variety of business licenses and permits in order to operate.  Some local governments also require that carpet cleaners hold specific cleaning business licenses due to wastewater disposal; however, that is not common.

Related: Common business licenses, permits, and registrations by state

Step 6: Find Financing

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a piano tuning business is another.  Fortunately, the cost to start a new piano tuning business is relatively low; however, funding to start a business can be difficult.  Banks are typically going to want the borrower to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.

Related: Finding the money to start a business

Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account

Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
 
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.

Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Marketing for a piano tuning business doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. There are a number of simple and effective ways to reach your target market. By using a combination of online and offline marketing techniques, you can effectively promote your business without breaking the bank.

Most importantly, before you start marketing your piano tuning business, it is important to have a solid plan in place. This plan should outline your target market, as well as the methods you will use to reach them.

Related: Low-cost ways to market a new business

One important task while working on the marketing is developing an online presence. A website developer may be out of the budget, but Wix makes it easy for non-technical people to get a website running quickly and affordably.

Step 9: Get Business Insurance

Before you start your piano tuning business, it is important to purchase the necessary insurance. This will protect you and your business in the event of an accident or damage to property. There are a number of different types of insurance available, so be sure to research the options and choose the coverage that is right for your business.

A few types of important insurance include:
– Liability insurance: This type of insurance will protect you in the event that someone is injured on your property or if you damage someone’s property.
– Property insurance: This type of insurance will protect your business equipment and supplies in the event of theft, fire, or other damage.
– Workers’ compensation insurance: This type of insurance will protect you in the event that an employee is injured while working for your business.

The cost to insure a piano tuning business will differ according to factors like a business’ location, the value of the equipment to be insured, and the number of employees on staff. To get a more accurate idea of potential insurance costs, request quotes from multiple insurance companies. Compare the policies and consider factors like deductibles and coverage limits to find the policy that’s best for a business.
 
Related: Types of insurance your business may need

Step 10: Hire Employees

While many piano tuning businesses are owner-operated, having staff will allow you to expand the business and focus on the more important issues.

When hiring employees for your piano tuning business, it is important to consider the skills and experience they will need to effectively do their job. You may also want to conduct background checks and drug tests to ensure that your employees are reliable and trustworthy. Additionally, be sure to have a clear job description and set of expectations for each employee.

Related: Hiring your first employee

Step 11: Set up an Accounting System

Setting up an accounting system for your piano tuning business is critical to your business’s long-term success.

It is important to keep accurate financial records for your piano tuning business. This will allow you to track income and expenses, as well as to measure the financial health of your business. There are a number of software programs available that can help you with bookkeeping, or you may want to hire an accountant.

Related: Setting up the accounting for your business

The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:

- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.

Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.

How much does it cost to start a piano tuning business?

Becoming your own boss in this industry is relatively easy and doesn’t require a huge upfront investment or ongoing budget. 

Your ears are your most important tool, and they are free! Apart from that, you will only need a few simple tools in this trade, such as a tuning fork or an electronic tuning device and a tuning lever. 

Your expenses will primarily be associated with marketing and setting up business-related systems. You will not need a physical brick-and-mortar store for your piano tuning business. But depending on the region and reach of your business, consider investing in reliable transport.  

How profitable is a piano tuning business?

Piano tuning seems to be a male-dominated profession. In fact, according to Zippia, over 87% of piano tuners in the US are male, earning an average of USD 52,574. That said, the sought-after top 10% of professionals can earn up to USD 95,000. 

Given that running costs for a piano tuning business are low, this is a reliable median income. In addition, the tendency for professionals to stay in this trade suggests a high job satisfaction rate.  

Are there grants to start a piano tuning business?

It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a piano tuning business. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.

Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov, and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.

What skills are needed to run a piano tuning business?

Competence
We mentioned before that piano tuning is a relatively unregulated business in the US. Therefore, a reputation as a competent, customer-focused professional will be essential to running your own piano tuning business.

Excellent ears for nuance and pitch and profound knowledge of anatomy, sound, and mechanical operation across a range of piano brands are absolutely vital. 

We also recommend keeping up to date with the latest industry trends and development opportunities, as offered by the Piano Technicians Guild, for example.

Relationship Building
In a trade where success can be measured by how much repeat business you will attract, networking and excellent interpersonal skills are excellent personal traits. Together with your professional skills, they will help you build your customer base.

Organizational Skills and Focus
Piano tuning is delicate and patient work. Your strengths are your focus and calmness, and you should also not mind working alone. 

Organizational skills are definitely an advantage when starting your own piano tuning business. Basic business and management experience will also help correctly price your services, quoting and invoicing, and scheduling. 

Taking specific business classes may be a great way to help you with these skills.

What is the NAICS code for a piano tuning business?

The NAICS code for a piano tuning business is 811490, which is categorized under Other Personal Household Goods Repair and Maintenance.

The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.

Related: What is a NAICS code?

Final Thoughts

If you have a real passion for music and an ear for harmonies and tones, if you enjoy being your own boss and working on your own terms, then running your own piano tuning business ticks all these boxes.

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